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Vince Cable confirms Liberal Democrat leadership bid

Former cabinet minister is popular with Lib Dem members – but will be 79 at the next scheduled general election

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 20 June 2017 12:06 BST
The former Business Secretary says the public must have a final say on the Brexit deal
The former Business Secretary says the public must have a final say on the Brexit deal (EPA)

Sir Vince Cable has confirmed his bid to be the next Liberal Democrat leader, insisting he has the “energy, enthusiasm and experience” – even at the age of 74.

The former Business Secretary said he was the big figure required to lead the party through “what will be a period of chronic uncertainty”, as the Brexit talks get under way.

Sir Vince promised to build on outgoing leader Tim Farron’s legacy of “good policies” to bolster public services. He said: “The NHS, especially mental health, and social care and schools are now under severe financial pressure.”

And he insisted there were “big opportunities ahead”, despite the Lib Dems struggling to make a breakthrough at the election, winning just 12 seats.

“The Conservatives are in disarray and in retreat. The Labour Party outperformed expectations but complacently believes that ‘one more heave’ will see it into office,” he said.

Sir Vince added: “There is a big space in British politics which I am determined that we should occupy.”

He is expected to face competition from Ed Davey, another cabinet minister from the Coalition years, and from Norman Lamb, a former health minister.

Sir Vince remains popular with Lib Dem members and is remembered for successfully wounding Gordon Brown in Commons clashes, when temporary leader a decade ago.

But, as well as questions about his age – he will be 79 at the next scheduled general election – some Lib Dems may fear Sir Vince is tainted by the Coalition years.

In his statement, announcing he would run, Sir Vince himself referred to the party having “survived five difficult years of Coalition government”.

He was one of the highest-profile casualties of the Lib Dem collapse two years ago, but returned to the Commons as MP for Twickenham at the election earlier this month.

Sir Vince’s path to the leadership has been eased by the withdrawal, last week, of Jo Swinson, the former equalities minister and once the bookmakers’ favourite.

Mr Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk and a high-profile campaigner on mental health issues, was defeated by Mr Farron in the 2015 Lib Dem leadership contest.

Mr Davey, the former Energy Secretary, is expected to launch his leadership bid later this week and has said that lots of people are encouraging him to run – including his wife.

On Brexit, Sir Vince confirmed he would continue to push for a second referendum on any Brexit deal, by working with “like-minded people in other parties”.

He described EU withdrawal as an “iceberg” about to hit the UK economy, vowing: “Liberal Democrats need more than ever to warn of the dangers ahead and the need for a new course.”

Mr Farron sparked surprise last week when he announced he was standing down, arguing it was impossible to be leader and to “live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching”.

Several high-profile Lib Dems had privately criticised the way he had answered questions on whether gay sex was a sin and his views on abortion.

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